Thursday, July 18, 2013

California Stars

USA Day in Voorburg, The Netherlands
 July 4, 2013.  Back in Texas, Independence Day festivities are kicking off under a canopy of fireworks, fireflies, and fire-like temperatures.  In The Netherlands, I sit in my kitchen wearing the same full-time Mom uniform I’ve been wearing for ten months: jeans, an aging long-sleeved shirt, and an Old Navy hoodie. The noisy space-heater is running at my feet and clouds hang dismissively outside my gritty window.  Grey:  the color of too many days in The Netherlands.  I search for hope.  The information is usually inaccurate.  (I imagine an eager, but incompetent 22-year-old-meterology intern updating Europe’s forecasts daily).  I also turn to the Dutch weather website, and cross-reference.  Both 5-day forecasts promise glowing orbs of yellow and numbers creeping up the scales in both Fahrenheit and Celsius.  My mood correspondingly brightens.  Besides festive Facebook posts and the New Orleans calendar hanging by my fridge (which, I happily found at the American Book Center in The Hague) – there’s no real indication that I should be celebrating my home country’s most important historical holiday.  Like most of the holidays we’ve celebrated since we’ve been in The Netherlands, I feel like a solo cheerleader trying to arouse an audience of a few, but there is a certain freedom in our isolation.  I ignore the actual July 4th date and plan to celebrate when the weather was more conducive to a commemoration remotely similar to one I’d attend at home.  I matter-of-factly decide that my family is going to celebrate July 4th, on Saturday, July 6th.   To further my quest for recreation of all things authentically American - I peruse the American Women’s Club newsletter and find, to my confusion and excitement, that a USA Day is being hosted by Voorburg, a small town on the outskirts of The Hague, on Saturday.  I’m not entirely sure what that means. . . but it’s perfect timing for my delayed Independence Day plans!  (It must be a sign!)  I am in an over-committal mood fueled by the promise of a kiss of sunshine, and also decide to invite a few American friends over on Saturday night.  Although V has grilled multiple times in the rain, I was looking forward to a drizzle-less BBQ complete with burgers, watermelon mojitos, and tiny plastic American flags I spotted at the junk store in Leiden.
  E-mails sent to friends, visions of my sunny Americanized Saturday dancing through my head, I decided to further research the USA Day on-line.  I soon discovered that Voorburg was celebrating a 20-year sister-city celebration with Temecula, California.  “Temecula!!” I say outloud to myself.  (Or to the dog - the kids are having naptime).  I practically hyperventilated under the cloudy pillow that was incessantly smothering my excitement.   My dog, Tyler looks at me quizzically.  Temecula is home to Ponte Winery.   It’s a beautiful place (which I’ve visited before) but more than that - Ponte Winery is where my brother is getting married in just a few months!  Temecula, California (when you’re living half-way across the world) is like. . . referencing your family’s backyard or something. . . What the. . . how. . . what???  I can’t wait to see what this USA Day has to offer.  I start finalizing details such as attire and train schedules. 
   July 6, 2013.  The intern may be receiving a full-time job offer.  The weather, as predicted, is gorgeous on Saturday morning.  My family arrives in Voorburg dressed in red, white, and blue attire (well, Baby Girl insisted on wearing her pink tropical flower dress V recently purchased in the States.  I shrug, and figure she could represent the Hawaiian Islands).  We meander through the early-morning mingling and I instantly feel at home in the little town.  Maybe it was because of the red, white, and blue bunting hanging across the pedestrian road (it certainly wasn’t the mechanical bull on the sidewalk) but it feels like a small-. 
town American downtown.  Store-front windows dressed to attract, brick streets, and a cozy garden in front of the government buildings all made me think I had stepped back in time to America: 1950
Dutch girls attempting to spin cotton candy
  We stroll down the road eyeing the vendors popping popcorn and attempting to spin cotton candy onto a stick (and later laugh at discarded fluffy cloud sticking to and out of a sidewalk trash bin. . . I guess the Dutch, for all their love of candy, are not fans of the disintegrating pink sugary mess . . . )  The town baker sells doughnuts and apple pies.  We clap along with the marching band, and then, to my utter excitement – a colorguard team, languidly waving their flags, lead the band through the streets (Look, Baby Girl!  Mama used to do that in high school and at Baylor!)  The marching band is followed by a parade of antique American cars including a Cadillac Sedan de Ville 1956. 
  A small stage is set-up in front of the church and Voorburg government buildings.  We listen attentively to speeches from representatives of Temecula as well as the Ambassador of the U.S. located in The Hague.  We snap photos of V and Baby Girl along side the antique army jeep (driven by a nice young Dutch man wearing a U.S.A. army uniform). 
U.S. Ambassador & Voorburg Mayor
    The sun is reaching a quite-warm stage of the day.  My entire family is starting to sweat and I relish the unfamiliar beads of moisture appearing on my arms as if they were photographs of my childhood.  To further my quest of a synchronized, long nap time (we’ve got to prepare for the BBQ!) I spot an array of small American children’s games nestled inside a hedged courtyard.  Plastic horseshoes fly through the air while bean bags are hurled toward small plastic cans set up on t.v. tray.  With this blog post in mind, I put on an imaginary reporter’s hat and start to chat to a couple of the teenagers entertaining the children.  I quickly discover that a large part of the sister-city relationship is a student exchange between Temecula and Voorburg every two years.  50 students from Voorburg (and surrounding areas) submitted a motivation letter and were interviewed.  The beaming girls I was speaking to were two of the 24 students who were selected for the program, which meant they would be visiting Temecula in June 2014.  She excitedly continued to explain that 24 students from Temecula would be visiting and staying in their homes during next March. (My first thought – oh my goodness, those poor California kids are going to freeze.  But second thought – well, their adrenaline and excitement of a once-in-a-lifetime-trip might keep
Classic Car Parade at USA Day
them warm, too.)  Their enthusiasm for the program was contagious.  I couldn’t help but gush to them about how beautiful Temecula is and to share my personal story of my brother’s upcoming nuptials to this audience who (at least pretended) to care.  I congratulated them both on their acceptance into the program and again, expressed my appreciation for this fantastic travel and cultural experience hosted by the two cities.  Little Man is knocking down all the red, white and blue plastic cans out of the corner of my eye.  He’s not using the bean bags though – he’s bulldozing the TV tray.  Another privileged Dutch student is trying to corral the disaster while V helps her.  They seem to have everything (relatively?) under control.  I’m hyper with excitement as I shout over to V – “I’m going to try and catch one of the representatives from Temecula!” and he raises a hand and nods distractedly. 
  I find an approachable red-headed woman smiling and standing off to the side as the Ambassador and Voorburg Mayor chat to each other.  I feel a bit like a goofball, but I also know what it’s like to stand in a sea of Dutch-speaking people.  I introduce myself and like I thought she might, she lit up with happiness at
meeting another American in a foreign country.  She told me that she wasn’t with the government stuff, but rather, she was in charge of the exchange program.  We swapped a few stories and she invited me to call her next time I was in Temecula, which I thought was really sweet.  My kids’ (and husband’s) energy levels fading, I wished her good-luck with thanks for the conversation and my family departed USA Day complete with an (American) patriotic feeling.
   Once settled back at home, between putting the kids to nap time, prepping the mojitos, and starting the grill, I quickly researched Voorburg day in Temecula:  October 26, 2013 (the weekend before my brother’s wedding).  We will probably just miss the festivities, but I hope that there’s at least one Dutch person who has been to Voorburg wandering amongst the crowd. 
Baby Girl, V, and Little Man in Voorburg
  Although the fireworks didn’t blast, the entire day was one of the most memorable Independence Day celebrations I’ve experienced.   I’ve put the American flags away until next year, but I am happy to report that the sun is still shining.        
For more information about the Voorburg-Temecula Sister city associations and how to support education and cultural awareness – please see the following:



  1. Sounds like a great day!! Happy (belated) 4th! :-)

  2. Nice write up! I wonder how many American expats were drawn to USA Day :-) (Hello from Rotterdam!)